Years bygone, you could join the ranks of the fire service as a young recruit and progress up the chain of command over a 20- to 30-year career simply by doing a good job and learning on the job. Fire service certifications were gained through training and experience, and played a major role in...
To access the remainder of this piece of premium content, you must be registered with Firehouse. Already have an account? Login
Register in seconds by connecting with your preferred Social Network.
Complete the registration form.
It has become a must that every young person takes personal responsibility for planning out short- and long-term career goals and educational plans. This is called professional development planning. It permits you to take personal control of your life, rather than trusting it to divine providence and chance. Plan now to benefit later! Why? Let’s look at how a firefighter gets onto the job and what’s involved to climb the “career ladder.”
The College Degree
The associate’s degree is the first level of a college degree. It is a two-year degree based upon earning 60 to 65 college credits or units. It can be earned at a community college or four-year college and consists of courses in general education (sometimes called arts and sciences), courses in technology and management related to the fire technology field and courses in the fire technology discipline itself. The baccalaureate is the second level of degree. It is a four-year degree. Both programs are also adding courses in weapons of mass destruction (WMD), high-building rescue, etc., to their curriculum. This combination of studies provides you with a solid foundation to do well on departmental entrance exams, promotional exams and on the job itself.
Choosing a College
How do you choose a college and a degree program? What are some of your considerations? Let’s look at:
- Programs of study and location of the college
- Amount of time you have budgeted for study
- Cost of college
- Your best learning style
- Amount of life and job experience you bring
- Distance to the college
Shopping for a college education should be approached much like shopping for anything else – carefully! What field or fields are you most interested in? As a reader of Firehouse® Magazine and this article you are probably in the fire technology field; however, fire technology programs at colleges, especially community colleges, vary in focus and choices. And you might want to take a second major in another related area that will expand your career possibilities as time goes on.
My program at Norwalk Community College now has an emergency management option for those wanting to expand their job options as retirement approaches in a new and emerging field. Emergency management has become a very desirable field of study. Likewise, many of my students also take second concentrations in engineering or science so that they can pursue positions in fire protection engineering or safety careers. Think carefully about your long-term options and interests.
Personal time commitment availability, work experience and geographic location all play into your decision. Can you commit time to going to college, considering your family situation? Does your present job allow time for college? If you are on shifts, does your schedule allow for a commitment to a college calendar? Do you have time on the job that can be applied to college credits? More about this later.
Where are you living and working in relation to the college or colleges you are considering? Generally speaking, community colleges are closer to most residential areas and have off-campus locations to make it even more convenient to attend. Starting your course work at a community college will make the travel easier. Community colleges also have more support for the student returning to college after an extended period out of school. These colleges also have tutoring support, study groups, and other help readily available.
Your Time Commitment
Most colleges offer classes in fixed timeframes – i.e., 10- or 15-week semesters or terms. Within these time frames, classes are either scheduled days or evenings. Most fire technology degree programs do provide for evening classes, as students attending these classes are also working during the daytime hours. However, more and more college fire technology programs recognize the nature of fire department shifts and do plan courses to coincide with the shift scheduling patterns. Some colleges hire faculty who have the ability to rotate the course schedule in order to keep it in sync with the students’ work schedules. Alternatively, some colleges have adapted to Internet-based technology to let students participate in course work via distance learning, in whole or in part.